Composing experience, experiencing composition : placing Wordsworth's poetic experiments within the context of rhetorical epistemology

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Sullivan, David Bradley
Hanson, Linda K.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of English
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This text recontextualizes Wordsworth's writings by showing the ways in which they question the assumptions about "philosophy" and "poetry" that have been constructed within the field of Cartesian dualisms. It employs the ideas of classical rhetoricians, particularly Isocrates and Quintilian, contemporary rhetorical thinkers such as Kenneth Burke, and twentieth-century scientists, particularly Gregory Bateson, David Bohm, and Antonio Damasio, to show that Wordsworth's efforts to establish connections between mind and body, mind and world, and feeling and thinking were coherent and highly relevant rather than simply paradoxical. And it argues that Wordsworth's writings embody his effort to develop a "rhetorical epistemology" or an "epistemic rhetoric" that could counterbalance the dangers of the reductive scientific epistemology of his time.Employing his knowledge of classical rhetoric, particularly Quintilian, and his own sense of the complexities of perception and representation, Wordsworth developed a model of knowing founded on personal experience, representation, relationship, and revision rather than on the establishment of "demonstrable" or "objective" knowledge. His model, like Gregory Bateson's "ecology of mind," was built on an integrated view of mind and world. He believed that perception, feeling, thinking and acting were related in a continuum of mental process (rather than being separate categories), and that individual minds had a mutually-shaping, integrative relationship with what he saw as larger mindlike processes (particularly "Nature").Within this ecology of mind, Wordsworth positioned poetry as a mental process which completed science by providing the means for joining fact and value, "objective knowledge" and personal meaning, reflection and participation. In his construction, poetry was to be an accessible, experience-based discourse of learning and knowing. He aimed to return poetry to its origins, not in "primitive utterance of feelings" but in "poesis" or meaning-making.By countering the assumptions of scientific epistemology, and offering a vital alternative, he sought to reshape and revalue poetry, to broaden his society's narrowing view of knowledge, and to reconstitute moral vision and belief in a society on its way to terminal doubt. His model of knowing is worth considering as we reshape our own views of knowing in the late twentieth century.